The exhibition in SF MoMA is dedicated to the beginning of the career of photographer Diane Arbus. She lived and worked at the 60’s in New York and it is easy to see how the atmosphere of the city affected her style: the pictures are controversial, the majority are black and white and the photos have a lot of force of movement in them.
Consequently, reaction to the exhibition is the same as the attitude towards New York itself – you either love it or you hate it, or in my case more of the first with a little fling of the second. The black and white nude portraits attract the most attention.
First there is a strong desire to judge the person depicted in a very subjective manner: fat, yang, pretty, dirty, queer… However the more you look at it, the more you are attracted to the small details and start to comprehend the spirit of the photography the character behind the superficial first impression.
The second thought is to attempt to understand the character and imagine yourself in the environment. The photos make the viewer grow to love and associate yourself with the portraits, so you start to hasten throughout the exhibition in the desire to see more and understand better, looking for an explanation.
However, the portraits of people in their everyday clothes are much more one-sided, but still beautiful. This precisely gives a subdued impression. It strikes a chord with your soul eventually, as if Diane pits the portraits against each other.
Visiting such a contentious exhibition will not leave you apathetic. It’s easy to admonish the work of the artist, but at the same time it causes a lot of respect. The culmination of the entire show is a photograph of a female impersonator holding long gloves (1959). Artist, curator and society – all showing how swiftly the world is changing around you. You either catch up or stay one more dull black and white portrait of the past.